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Anybody close to a computer can now read some of the interrogation techniques that the CIA ran past federal lawyers at the Justice Department. There's the attention hold, the insult slap, sleep deprivation and as well hear, much more. The Justice Department released four legal documents from the Bush administration. As those documents came out, Attorney General Eric Holder said that CIA officials who followed the legal guidance in the memos would not be prosecuted for their actions. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: The memos are methodical and exact. They explore in detail roughly a dozen techniques that CIA interrogators were allowed to use. Slapping, nudity and slamming detainees into walls were on the list. Justice Department lawyers told the CIA they could put one detainee who is afraid of bugs in a small box with an insect. The controlled drowning known as the waterboard was described as the most intense of the CIA interrogation techniques.
One memo says waterboarding constitutes a threat of imminent death, but in that same memo the Justice Department office of legal counsel concluded that waterboarding is not torture because it does not cause severe pain or suffering. Fred Hitz was the CIA's inspector general in the 1990s.
Mr. FRED HITZ (Former Inspector General, CIA): I just don't see how in the world that kind of advice can be given as a legal opinion, as if you were advising on whether a deed of trust was properly executed or something of that kind. These are human beings we're talking about, and it's not something that the United States, much less the Central Intelligence Agency, should be involved in.
SHAPIRO: The Justice Department has withdrawn all of these memos. And Attorney General Eric Holder sent a message to CIA officials yesterday, saying they would not be prosecuted for following the Justice Department's legal guidance. CIA Director Leon Panetta also sent a message to agency employees. He said after 9/11, CIA responded as duty requires. In the past few weeks, top current and former CIA officials had pushed to keep the memos secret. After the Obama administration declassified the documents yesterday, former CIA Director Michael Hayden said the United States is less safe because of this.
He said agents will be more timid and foreign allies will be less likely to cooperate with American intelligence officials. Some human rights groups criticized the decision not to prosecute people for these actions. Amnesty International called it a get out of jail free card to people who committed torture. But President Obama said in a statement nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Former CIA official Fred Hitz condemns the harsh interrogations but he thinks the decision not to prosecute is the right one.
Mr. HITZ: If the CIA officials relied on these opinions, as mistaken as I believe they are, and were directed to go ahead and do this thing, it seems to me that you can't prosecute them for having done it.
SHAPIRO: The release of the memos ends a five-year court battle with the ACLU. Jameel Jaffer runs the ACLU's national security project, and like the rest of the public, he saw these documents for the first time yesterday.
Mr. JAMEEL JAFFER (Director, ACLU's National Security Program): It's legal reasoning that's meant to reach the result that the Bush administration wanted to reach.
SHAPIRO: He says he was surprised at the detail in the documents. They explain which abusive interrogation techniques can be combined, how many calories a detainee must be given when he's being deprived of food, and how many minutes detainees need to recover from being doused with cold water. The amount of time depends on the water's temperature. One former CIA official speaking on background said that shows how carefully tailored this program was, Jaffer disagrees.
Mr. JAFFER: They are not really legal memos at all. They are political documents that are meant to in the end just provide a kind of window dressing for war crimes. Jaffer says there are more fights coming. Other documents remain classified because they refer to these memos. With these new declassifications, other dominoes could start to fall. And, Jaffer says, he believes transparency is the first step toward accountability. There is an ongoing investigation into the lawyers who wrote the memos.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.